When Is An Internship Not An Internship?

An interesting discussion is playing out on NOAA Coral List regarding how we define “internships.” This got started after the Roatan Institute for Marine Science (RIMS) advertised their 4-week, $3000 (travel not included), summer “internship.” That sparked a lot push back from Coral Listers who complained (and I agree) that something a student PAYS for is NOT an internship, but a course.

I never had the opportunity for unpaid internships as a student, as I always needed to secure workstudy plus other part-time jobs in order to pay for my bills. And I’ve had many conversations with friends about how jobs that ask for or reward unpaid internship experience are predisposed to penalize marginalized students, POC, or students on lower socioeconomic scales.

The Coral List debate has resulted in one scientist proposing a set of guidelines for what constitutes an internship:

An internship is:

1: paid or unpaid depending on offer and agreed upon prior to the beginning of the internship

2: should cover “daily” transportation

3: The employer should cover cost of food while the intern is working

4: the intern should not replace the role of paid employees

5: should be educational to the intern

6: can yield college credits

7: The role of the intern, should not be in any way shape or form a method for the employer to benefit monetarily. (In the case that the issu brought up, it is apparent the cost that interns pay allows the program to function at the level it does. Without monetary input from interns, the program would not exist.)

8: The possibility for the intern to be hired at the end of the internship period should be offered depending on employer judgment. It should be a possibility, not a guarantee.

9: IF there is a cost for intern to travel and live in the selected region, that cost is up to the intern to cover. The employer should have NO hand in that matter besides suggestions.

10: Housing, completely separate from employer unless they offer to pay for it as a form of payment for the internship

11: medical coverage? (I have no idea. Would like some input from those who lead programs of this type)

12: racial, religious, ethnic and sexual discrimination are in no way tolerated and subject to legal action if it is deemed there is a bias.

I’m curious what you think: Does your organization/institution have guidelines for how you define “internship?” Does this list adequately capture the definition of “internship?”

4 Replies to “When Is An Internship Not An Internship?”

  1. We’ve had a handful of interns here at Monkey C Media and I have to say we refer to the six key factors given by the Department of Labor.

    1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
    2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
    3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
    4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
    5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
    6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

  2. In my group, we have a policy that we pay interns at least minimum wage.

    If you are not paying them minimum wage, then there is always a question regarding the extent to which the internship is education and the extent to which it is exploitation.

    Minimum wage is not enough to live on, anyway. It is the least we could do. On the other hand, we work with very few interns.

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